An increased focus on lower environmental impact need not require any sort of political affiliation or even concern for the planet. Instead, it can be driven by simple concern for the bottom line – while still delivering the feel-good factor of less waste and reduced pollution. That's because, quite simply, using less means paying less. And in the accounting office, it has become possible to almost eliminate printed paper through the use of smart software, with the attendant benefits of lowering cost and requiring the death of a lot less trees. More than that, when the limitations of paper are left behind, productivity receives a major shot in the arm, too.
For many accountants, this may sound a bit of a fanciful claim. After all, piles of paper have always characterised many of the core functions performed by your office. And indeed, in most accounting practices, paper-pushing remains the norm. But it doesn't have to be like that.
Already, some of CQS' more progressive clients are using the full range of software available to them to eliminate dependence on paper when providing professional services. One Pretoria-based firm which once did everything completely manually explains the limitations of paper as being time consuming, bulky (because storing paper requires physical space), error-prone and obstructive when retrieving information.
Going paperless does require some investment and even a leap of faith; after all, when printed documents define your business processes, moving to a completely digital environment can be a little unsettling. However, for this company that leap of faith has delivered substantial dividends. One of the directors describes the difference as "remarkable" and notes that it "permeates the entire service delivery process". The company prepares financials, conduct audits, captures time and expenses, does tax and secretarial work for its clients - and it is entirely computerised.
Not only does that mean far less waste paper going to the tip, or providing feedstock for bookworms, no more expensive printer ink and reduced pressure on the office multifunction, but it also means a big boost in productivity. That's because processes are defined and enforced by the software; it is not possible to complete a series of tasks without executing every step. Finding and accessing information is practically instant, since it doesn't have to be dug out from a file in a dusty back room.
But perhaps the biggest surprise for those who remain somewhat sceptical is that this firm has operated on a paperless basis for over four years. It works, and it works well.
That may be good and well for a single office, some may say, but what about a multiple-site operation? How well does the paperless office scale? If anything, electronic document management is even better for a bigger company, since paper-filing tends to become exponentially unwieldy with volume. Another CQS client, with five offices across South Africa, sees the paperless office as a key factor in its ability to boost productivity while driving up the quality of services delivered to clients.
Using paperless systems, the firm says it is able to complete an entire engagement electronically rapidly and without hassle. And it has saved more than 50% on paper utilisation and the associated costs, while also reducing the time spent on each file by an average of 20%. They also review electronically by using the electronic review tools available in their software. Even managing the practice is done electronically by making use of dashboards within the software instead of printing reports monthly.
Whether or not you believe in saving the planet, whether or not you believe anthropomorphic climate change is caused by how much printing and paper you need becomes immaterial when one considers the advantages of lower cost to company and improved productivity, which are demonstrable with a move towards much less paper in the professional accounting office. Instead, it all comes down to a simple equation which any accountant has to appreciate: Using less means more on the bottom line.
And it remains a fact recognised by every accountant, too, that when less is used, more remains for the future. When that is considered in light of the planet as a whole, a clear win-win situation emerges.
Ross Hampton is the Director of CQS Software South Africa